Kenneth Adolf Slessor OBE (27 March 1901 – 30 June 1971) was an Australian poet, journalist and official war correspondent in World War II. He was one of Australia's leading poets, notable particularly for the absorption of modernist influences into Australian poetry. The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry is named after him.
Slessor was born Kenneth Adolphe Schloesser in Orange, New South Wales. As a boy, he lived in England for a time with his parents and in Australia visited the mines of rural New South Wales with his father, a Jewish mining engineer whose father and grandfather had been distinguished musicians in Germany.
His family moved to Sydney in 1903. Slessor attended Mowbray House School (1910–1914) and the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (1915–1918), where he began to write poetry. His first published poem was in 1917 about a digger in Europe, remembering Sydney and its icons. Slessor passed the 1918 NSW Leaving Certificate with first-class honours in English and joined the Sydney Sun as a journalist. In 1919, seven of his poems were published. He married for the first time in 1922.
Slessor made his living as a newspaper journalist, mostly for the Sun, and was a war correspondent during World War II (1939–1945). Slessor counted Norman Lindsay, Hugh McCrae and Jack Lindsay among his friends.
The bulk of Slessor's poetic work was produced before the end of the Second World War. His poem "Five Bells"—relating to Sydney Harbour, time, the past, memory, and the death of the artist, friend and colleague of Slessor at Smith's Weekly, Joe Lynch—remains probably his best known poem, followed by "Beach Burial", a tribute to Australian troops who fought in World War II.
In 1965, Australian writer Hal Porter wrote of having met and stayed with Slessor in the 1930s. He described Slessor as:
...a city lover, fastidious and excessively courteous, in those qualities resembles Baudelaire, as he does in being incapable of sentimentalizing over vegetation, in finding in nature something cruel, something bordering on effrontery. He prefers chiselled stone to the disorganization of grass.
Ronald McCuaig was the first to produce an in-depth review of Kenneth Slessor (in The Bulletin in August 1939 and republished in "Tales out of bed" (1944)) The review was favourable, ranking Slessor above C.J. Brennan and W.B. Yeats. It was written a year before "Five Bells" which marked Slessor's move to modernism, a move inspired, according to Rundle and others, by McCuaig. The review therefore covers the pre-modernist parts of Slessor's poetry.
He married Pauline Wallace in 1951; and a year later celebrated the birth of his only child, Paul Slessor, before the marriage dissolved in 1961.
He died alone and suddenly of a heart attack on 30 June 1971 at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, North Sydney.
- Thief of the Moon, Sydney: Hand press of J. T. Kirtley (1924)
- Earth-Visitors, London: Fanfrolico Press (1926)
- Trio: a book of poems, with Harley Matthews and Colin Simpson, Sydney: Sunnybrook Press (1931)
- Cuckooz Contrey, Sydney: Frank Johnson (1932)
- Darlinghurst Nights: and Morning glories: being 47 strange sights, Sydney (1933)
- Funny Farmyard: Nursery Rhymes and Painting Book, with drawings by Sydney Miller, Sydney: Frank Johnson (1933)
- Five Bells: XX Poems, Sydney: F.C. Johnson (1939)
- One Hundred Poems, 1919–1939, Sydney: Angus & Robertson (1944); revised edition published as Poems, 1957; new edition published as Selected Poems, 1978.
- Bread and Wine, Sydney, Angus & Robertson (1970)
- Australian Poetry (1945)
- Co-editor, The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Verse (Melbourne, 1961)
- Slessor has a street in the Canberra suburb of McKellar named after him.
- The bells motif in "Five Bells" is referenced at the end of the 1999 song "You Gotta Love This City" by The Whitlams, which also involves a drowning death in Sydney Harbour.
- Slessor's poetry was chosen to be placed on the Higher School Certificate English reading lists, and was also examined in the final English exam.
- "MS 3020 Papers of Kenneth Adolf Slessor (1901–1971)". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 29 August 2008.
- Haskell, Dennis (2002). "Slessor, Kenneth Adolf (1901–1971)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University.
- "Incandescent Ivor Indyk turns down the heat" by Miriam Cosic, The Australian (26 February 2011)
- Stewart 1977, 52; Slessor, Haskell, and Dutton 1994; Haskell 2002, 16:261; via Adele J. Haft "Introduction to Maps and Mapping in Kenneth Slessor's Poetic Sequence 'The Atlas'", Cartographic Perspectives, No. 70 (2011)
- A. Haft article cites (1908–1910: Slessor 1970, 253)
- Dutton 1991, 1–2
- A. Haft article cites (1940–1944: Slessor 1970, 67; Dutton 1991, 120)
- Headon, David (October 1999). "Up From the Ashes: The Phoenix of a Rugby League Literature" (PDF). Football Studies Volume 2, Issue 2. Football Studies Group. Retrieved 7 July 2009.
- Porter (1965) p. 40
- "Tales out of bed / by Ronald McCuaig | National Library of Australia". catalogue.nla.gov.au. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- Rundle, Guy "The Culturestate", Meanjin, 69, 2, Winter 2010, pp. 56–63
- It's an Honour
- Dutton, Geoffrey (1991). Kenneth Slessor: A Biography. Ringwood, Victoria: Viking. ISBN 9780670832682.
- Porter, Hal (1965) "Melbourne in the Thirties" in The London Magazine, 5(6): 31–47, September 1965
- Slessor, Kenneth; Dennis Haskell; and Geoffrey Dutton. 1994. Collected Poems. Pymble, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
- Stewart, Douglas. 1977. A Man of Sydney: An Appreciation of Kenneth Slessor. Melbourne: Nelson.